Strides: How It Can Do Wonders for Your Running

You’ve probably heard other runners or coaches talking about running strides as a training exercise, but surprisingly striding is a largely overlooked and at times misunderstood element of many runners’ training schedules.

In addition, most people like to run those extra few miles or kilometres in training as they focus on a weekly distance target.

However, cutting some training runs short and dedicating only 5-15 minutes to running strides at the end of a run can do wonders for your running!

What are strides?

Despite the name, strides are nothing to do with intentionally over-extending your leg (i.e. trying to force your stride length to be longer). Strides are essentially short accelerations – a short burst of speed where you gradually accelerate as you go.

A stride is a running effort at speed over short distances of between 50m and 100m. It is not a full-out sprint –more a gradual increase in speed with a focus on maintaining good running form.

Therefore, strides should not be run with maximum effort.

A perceived RPE of 7/8 or an effort of between 80-90% of your maximum speed is what you should be aiming for.

The Benefits of Running Strides

1. It reinforces good form and technique and they remind your body of how it should feel when working anaerobically. 

Your body will develop the ability to switch from the slow-twitch fibres of aerobic running to the fast-twitch fibres of anaerobic running.

2. It’s a great way to improve your biomechanics and efficiency when running aerobically.

You’ll increase your ability to feel comfortable and in control while running at all of your training paces. 

3. It provides a good dynamic stretch.

This aids recovery keeps your legs supple and reduces the risks of burnout.

On the opposite side of the coin, the regular running of strides before high-intensity training sessions and races will ensure you have warmed up effectively and prepared your body for the quick start, lowering the risk of picking up an injury.

4. It can make a huge difference in your kick – or change of pace.

Regular running of strides at the end of runs teaches your body to cope with a sudden change of pace.

When Should You Run Strides?

There are largely four times that runners will benefit from running strides:

  1. Post-short training run
  2. Post-long run
  3. Pre-high-intensity training session
  4. Pre-race

After a short training run, doing 4-6 strides over 50-100 meters regularly will help get your body used to this change from aerobic to anaerobic running. It should feel comfortable, focus on good running form and stay relaxed.

As you get more comfortable with the strides, you could introduce them after your long run as this really forces your body to try and maintain correct running form while fatigued.

Running strides after a long run can really improve your ability to produce a sudden change of pace that comes in useful while competing in all race distances, particularly in 5k and 10k races.

However, as your body will be in a fatigued state, start off easy and progressively work into the strides. The aim is to maintain good running form and you’ll also give the body a good dynamic stretch which kick-starts the recovery.

Where to Run Strides?

When starting out, the best place to run strides is on a flat surface where you can run at speed over the recommended distance.

Some people find it useful to use a football pitch if you have just finished your run on the grass. You can use the length of the pitch for the stride and then jog the width for the recovery.

As your fitness improves you may wish to run some Union Jacks on the pitch as well. As the name suggests, you stride the diagonals from one corner to another and then use the widths as a recovery.

Another option which is becoming more popular is running strides on a slight hill. This will provide added stimulus and help develop your strength in addition to your speed. Moreover, you will be able to improve their knee lift which will enhance their running biomechanics.

Other Considerations

Speed has been defined as the rate of stride multiplied by the length of stride. This leads to one of the important goals of running strides: to increase your stride length while maintaining a quick turnover. 

Considering both components separately and adapting some of your training, you´ll be able to enhance our maximum sprinting speed.

One way of improving your rate of stride is to run downhill on a small slope.  Be careful and find a hill that is not too steep (2-3% downward slope) and run 4-6 repetitions.

Strength training could be incorporated into your training plan to improve your length of stride. This will enable you to cover more distance for each stride. 

Barefoot running on grass is becoming increasingly popular and some of the top running coaches are introducing it into the training plans of their athletes. The idea is that the athlete can strengthen the tendons and ligaments around the foot and increase calf strength and elasticity.

Bear in mind, we only recommend trying this once you have been running strides regularly and are familiar with barefoot running. Remember to ease yourself into it and try repeating 4 strides with a walk back for recovery.

Strides Workout – Running Strides Drills

Beginner Strides Drill

  1. Find a straight of between 50 and 100m where you’re not likely to face any obstacles in the form of other runners or traffic!
  2. Start slowly and gradually increase your pace.
  3. Focus on feeling relaxed and in control.
  4. Don’t aim to run as fast as possible!
  5. A slight forward lean of the upper body will help you feel relaxed.
  6. Jog or walk back to the start after every stride.
  7. Aim to repeat 4 to 6 efforts and as your fitness improves, add 2 more.

Advanced Strides Drill

Follow the advice above about feeling relaxed and maintaining good running form and then do the following:

  1. Run 2-3 strides on a flat straight path.
  2. Then find a hill where you can run 2 strides uphill, followed by 2 strides downhill.
  3. Repeat this 2 times per week after your run.

General Tips on How to Become a Better Runner

 1. Choose the Right Type of Shoe

Consider where you’re going to be running and buy shoes that will be suitable for the terrain. 

The two main types of road running shoes are neutral and stability shoes, with the latter designed for runners who overpronate (roll their foot excessively inwards on landing). If you’re not sure if you overpronate, it might be worth getting your gait analyzed.

If most of your training is off-road, then road shoes with built-up heels are unsuitable because you will be more unstable and could turn an ankle. 

2. Go for a Trial Run

Buying your running shoes is a big investment – so you should always test any shoes properly before buying them. Padding around on a carpet in the shop certainly won’t replicate how the shoes will feel when you’re running in them. Instead, you should “road test” them on an in-store treadmill.

3. Get a Gait  Analysis

A free gait analysis service is offered at many specialist running stores. You’ll be videoed while running on a treadmill for a couple of minutes and the footage is then played back to assess your foot plant, stride and running pattern. 

This information is then used to find the best shoe for you, though it should be said that you shouldn’t value your gait analysis results over and above what your feet are telling you. 

4. Don’t Wear Your Shoes Out

Generally, you should replace a pair after 500-600 miles (800 – 960km). Exactly how often you need to buy new shoes will depend on your weight, running style and choice of terrain, but you should always avoid trying to squeeze a few extra weeks out of shoes that are evidently worn out because the shoes won’t give you the protection you need and you’ll increase your chances of getting injured.

5. Select Smarter Socks

Runners should wear running-specific socks because they have extra padding across the ball of the foot, the toes and the heel area. This extra padding cuts down on impact and protects important areas that can blister. There’s also usually padding or a tighter area through the arch to allow the shoe to fit more closely and add better arch support.

6. Run Your Routine

The key to becoming a better runner is consistency. The more regularly you run, the sooner you’ll see an improvement in your cardiovascular fitness, an increase in both your sustainable pace and your all-out speed, and better recovery. However, this only applies if you follow a sensible, realistic and progressive training plan, and be smart with how you execute it. 

7. Get Stronger

If you want to be speedy, first get stronger. Build strength in your glutes, legs and core, as well as improve your hip, knee and ankle strength and mobility, and work towards better flexibility. Start to think like an athlete and you’ll start to perform like one.

8. Mix Up Your Runs

In general, a good training plan will be mostly easy runs, interspersed with one speedy interval or hills session, one tempo run, and perhaps one long run each week.

9. Train Faster

Runners of all levels can benefit from adding speed intervals to their routines. Interval training not only helps you get quicker, but it also sharpens up your running form and, crucially, livens up your training, because sticking to the same steady 5K for all your runs will start to get seriously boring after a while.

Short, fast interval sessions will quicken your sustainable speed. Intervals should last no longer than 90 seconds so you can maintain an intensity of around 85% of your maximum effort throughout. Rest between each interval should be three to four times the length of the drill, to allow you to maintain sprint quality.

10. Work on Technique

If you have been going on runs for some time, you may be able to benefit from improving your running technique, although it can be difficult to adjust this without the supervision of a specialist.

Position yourself upright and keep your hips elevated. Move forward slightly from your toes. You should try to keep your shoulders and hips from moving side to side and keep your torso from swaying by bringing your shoulders down and moving your arms from the shoulder joint towards your back.

You also need to work on your running cadence – the number of steps you take a minute. Most running watches monitor this for you, and the aim is generally to increase your cadence to improve efficiency and also reduce injury risk.

Your goal is to spend less time in contact with the ground.  Run with shorter and faster strides that include only brief contact with the ground.

11. Do Some Drills

Running drills has two benefits. The first is when you use them as part of your warm-up before a race or hard training session. They help to prepare your body so you can fly out of the gate and hit your race pace from the off.

The second benefit is more long-term. Adding drills to your weekly routine, perhaps after an easy run, can help to hone your running technique over time. You’ll need a 10-20m stretch and about 10 to 15 minutes to run through a few sets of each drill. 

12. Run the Hills

Uphill sessions are great for the glutes, get your heart rate high and challenge your body’s ability to process lactic acid, a key factor in improving speed. Find a steep hill, run up it for 30 to 45 seconds fast, then walk back down and repeat for six to ten reps.

Alternatively, you could run down the hill. Find a hill with a slight incline. Stand tall, then lean forward with the hill as you start to run. Focus on picking up your heels quickly and employing short fast steps, making contact with the ground soft, light and fast. Try six to ten reps of 30 seconds going downhill, jogging back up to the top after each one.

Final Thoughts 

Striding at the end of training runs can benefit runners of all abilities and experience. Try incorporating them into your weekly training schedule and as you progress you can run them on hills, downhill, or even barefoot on grass. If practised consistently you will make great strides in improving your personal bests over most race distances.

 

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